I never thought Frank Sinatra lyrics were cool until a youth ministry friend of ours decided to open each session of a retreat weekend with “Regrets? I have a few.” I can’t remember how he related this to the topic, but as 2009 draws to a close, I know that I have regrets, and it would be nice to live regret-free in 2010. How about you? Anything from this year you’d like to be able to do over? Rewind the tape and play out a particular scene differently?
I don’t spend a lot of time in the self-help section of bookstores. (I can just hear my acquaintances saying, “Ah! That explains it…”) I haven’t read Boundaries and my bookmark is still firmly set somewhere in the middle of Purpose Driven Life. But I was drawn to the title of Stephen Arterburn’s Regret Free Living.
My only previous experience with Arterburn’s writing was a very cursory reading of Every Man’s Battle, which was — typical of books in the broader psychology genre — very much based on anecdotal accounts. Regret Free uses stories as well, but I felt that these were used as a springboard for a larger discussion, and I can’t think of a better word than ‘discussion’ to describe the nature and tone of this book.
While we all struggle in different areas of relational dynamics — some of us more than others — the book’s forté has to do with the interpersonal dynamics of marriage and family life. I’m not sure however that a single person would find as much benefit, or someone thinking the book might deal with the relational dynamics in the workplace, or even regrets caused by poor decision making.
The more I read, the more I realized how foreign this type of Christian prose is to my reading experience. Still there were some things that really stood out. Here’s a snapshot:
When you’re thinking about regrets, just remember: You’re guilty and not guilty. Guilty for making whatever bad decision you did, not guilty for the factors that influenced you to make that bad decision.
And never forget that, in the final analysis, you don’t have to feel guilty at all. None of us ever does, once we’ve been completely forgiven — and Jesus Christ offers full forgiveness to any and all who come to him with a truly repentant heart. (p. 175)
As this passage suggests, the book is solidly aimed at the Christian market or those who are investigating the Christian faith. Each chapter contains relevant scripture citations that could make this easily the basis for a 13-week small group study. Small group questions are not provided however, nor are there any footnotes or bibliographic notes; copyright info on any quotations are embedded right in the text. I think that’s an attempt to make the book less intimidating.
Some of the ideas that stuck with me from the later chapters included the idea of having a “Life Check” which would work like “Spell Check” on your computer. (Sounds good. Where do I sign up for that?) Or introducing the different aspects to what we call “time;” chronos and kairos. (You know the first one every time you check the time in the corner of the computer you’re reading this on. You want to get to know the second better; the experience of being in the moment.)
However, I’ve got to say that at times I felt like the book was a little slow in moving on to the next point. Like maybe someone handed in a 40,000 word essay but the professor demanded 10,000 words more, so they filled it out. I think part of that may be my fault, because I wasn’t reading the book out of direct need, but merely as a book to review. For someone going through the pain of regret, some of the counsel of this book may be just what the doctor ordered.
Regrets? I have a few. I read books like this one and always remember that there will always be someone for whom this will be the first Christian book they have ever read. I then try to assess the book on that basis, and in this case, the joining of recognizable stories, logical analysis, solid advice and related scriptures passes that first book test with flying colors.
The full title is Regret Free Living: Hope for Past Mistakes and Freedom from Unhealthy Patterns by Stephen Arterburn with John Shore. (Bethany House Publishers, 2009; 231 pages, hardcover $17.99 US) Also available on Oasis Audio CDs read by the author ($25.99 US).